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A “Christian Atheist’s” Gift to Benedict


Italian journalist and self-described atheist Oriana Fallaci, who died last month, has bequeathed her personal papers and collection of history and other books to the Pontifical Lateranense University in Rome.

According to the AP, the rector of the university said she did so out of “veneration” for Pope Benedict XVI. He also commented that “the pope has said we must live in the world as if God existed and she (Fallaci) took up the challenge.”

In a Wall Street Journal interview, Fallaci said: “I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true.” Despite her esteem for Benedict, Fallaci had also criticized the Catholic Church for being what she deemed weak in face of what she viewed as a Muslim onslaught against the West.

Did Fallaci’s admiration for the Pope stem exclusively from her view of him as an ally in her passionate efforts to rouse Christians to defend Europe? Or is some way did she share his belief (enunciated upon receiving the gift) that “God is the ultimate truth to which all reason naturally gravitates.”

In chapter nine of The Force of Reason (of which I am honored to have received an autographed copy from Fallaci this past Easter), she reaffirms her atheism in no uncertain terms but at the same time insists she is “a Christian atheist.” She explains:

I am a Christian because I like the discourse which stays at the roots of Christianity. Because it convinces me. It seduces me…I mean the discourse conceived by Jesus of Nazareth…which…concentrates on Man. Which admitting free-will, claiming Man’s conscience, makes us responsible for our actions. Masters of our destiny. I see a hymn to Reason, a revival of clear thinking…choice…the rediscovery of freedom. The redemption of liberty…an idea that nobody had ever had…The idea of a God that becomes Man…Who speaking of a Creator…introduces himself as his Son and explains that all men are brothers of his Son…capable of exercising their own divine essence…by preaching the Goodness which is the fruit of Reason, of Freedom, by spreading Love…Jesus…as a man…tackles the theme of secularism…he stops the cowards who are about to stone the adulteress…he blasts against slavery…he fights…he dies. Without dying because Life does not die. Life always resurrects, Life is eternal. And, together with the discourse on Reason, on Freedom, this is the point that mostly convinces me…the refusal of Death, the apotheosis of Life…its alternative is Nothingness. And let’s face it: such is the principle which leads and feeds our civilization. (pp. 185-189)

What, if any, were Fallaci’s final ruminations on the oxymoron “Christian atheism”? Fallaci’s admirers – and I count myself among them – may never know, although the personal notes she left to Benedict may yield  further insights. But even in contradiction she – because she is Fallaci – cannot help but be morally and spiritually bracing. I for one believe she strove bravely to live “as if God existed.”  


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